Some years ago I took my parents on a walking tour of Paris put on by a company called Paris by Mouth. The premise is that you get to know the city through a series of visits to small shops and food stalls featuring the best that the city, and France, has to offer.
We took a similar approach to Barcelona and Sitges. We didn’t go with a guide–though we did look at a couple of guidebooks and talked with my parents and some friends–but we did learn a lot about Catalonia through food and drink. I’ve already written about Mas Comtal, the lovely winery we visited in the Penedes region, but there’s so much more to celebrate. While France has the reputation for having the best food in Europe I think I might actually like Spanish food more. Certainly, all the food we ate was delicious and, in general, it was a lot cheaper than France.
Barcelona’s most famous market is something of a pilgrimage site. It is possible to find almost everything there. During the course of our visit we loaded up on delicacies such as saffron, squid ink, hot sauce, tinned fish, and dried tuna. The market is colorful. The seafood vendors have a huge assortment of shellfish and fish that can’t be found in the United States–gooseneck barnacles, razor clams, yes, please! And the shucked oysters are some of the best around.
The market is also packed full of all sorts of little restaurants. We had a wonderful meal of tapas–again those razor clams!–at Bar Central. I suspect that many of the other spots would have been just as good. Hopefully someday I will get a chance to try a few more of the two dozen or so places found there.
While we visited La Boqueria twice, the market we spent the most time at was the municipal market in Sitges. Located on top of a large grocery store, and next to the train station, it is a shockingly good market. There are about 40 different vendors. They sell a lesser range of goods than the ones at La Boqueria but we were able to regularly get everything we needed while we were staying in the city. The produce stand, deli (where they have lovely pickled things), and fishmonger were all particularly notable. As was an Italian pasta shop where we got handmade truffle ravioli.
Sadé and I went to one Michelin star restaurant in Barcelona, a place near Plaça de Catalunya named Caelis. It was the most expensive meal we had in Europe and also the most impressive. The experience consisted of a seemingly endless procession of intricately prepared small plates that included such dishes as a tiny handmade tart served with cured egg yolk, a two layer vichyssoise, and a vermouth bombon. Alongside it we had an excellent cava from the Torelló winery that was every bit as good as a champagne. I’m also about 90% certain that we were seated next to Michael Pollan but we stupidly didn’t realize that we were until he got up and left. And certainly, if it wasn’t Michael Pollan who was sitting next to us it was some famous person from the food industry in the US. While we got very good service, the person next to us got special attention.
On my birthday we all went to a classic tapas place called Vivanda. They have a charming garden. Over the course of a couple of hours we enjoyed a steady stream of shareable plates. We had croquetes, pan con tomate, patatas bravas, smoked salmon with hibiscus, a vegetable dish consisting of sautéed spinach and asparagus on a bed of pesto, and, for the meat eaters, an oxtail dish. Afterwards we went to La Sagrada Familia, but that will be a separate blog post.
At the recommendation of one of the members of my congregation we went to L’Arrosseria Xátiva location near Las Ramblas. It is a place that specializes in paella. We quite enjoyed our meal. Sadé and I got one with lobster and the boys split one with chicken. While it was not quite as good as the arroz negro we had at Casa Hidalgo, it was nonetheless a very good rice dish. Unlike most of the rest of the places that I’ve mentioned, L’Arrosseria Xátiva markets itself pretty heavily to tourists–though not in a tacky way–and so the entire staff spoke flawless English. Its only real downside is that since there are three locations it has a bit of a corporate feel.
Eating Around Sitges
We ate or went shopping a number of other casual places throughout Sitges. The apartment we rented was next to Xarcutería Mauricio, which is a fantastic deli selling cured meats, prepared foods, and cheeses. We were also right by a great little bakery where we got bread, pastries, and handmade crackers and a beautiful organic vegetable stand that had far better fruits and vegetables than can be found almost any place in the US.
Sadé and I went to the Basque Sidreria El Kaprtixo, which had strong sour cider and might be the only working class bar by the beach. Cheap and excellent gelato was to be found almost everywhere. Asa became obsessed with Doner Kebab, a little kebab stand that I wish we had in Houston. Everything was handmade and a meal for all four of us was less than 25 euros.
We also had our mandatory experience with an obnoxious French waiter at a little oyster bar. When we asked for hot sauce for our oysters we were told, “You don’t put ketchup on caviar and you don’t put hot sauce on my oysters. My oysters are the best in the world.” The oysters were quite good but I don’t understand his problem with hot sauce. He had no objection to serving the mollusks with mignonette.
One night we had dinner at a place overlooking the beach called Millennium. The waitstaff was very nice and the food wasn’t bad. The meal was mostly notable, however, because one of the nearby patrons spent about 20 minutes complaining loudly about everything that was wrong with her paella, which was strange because she finished the entire thing.
Another afternoon we had a lunch at a little place called L’Aixeta. Like the spot we grabbed lunch at in Tarragona, it is a type of restaurant that is sorely missing in the United States. A family affair, they served a nice three course seafood meal for less than 15 euros.
The rest of the time we ate at home: cooking seafood from Mercat Sitges; enjoying easy to assemble meals of vegetables, tinned fish, and cured meats; and making pasta dishes. I had a fantastic time, made all the better by the fact that good wine is so much cheaper in Spain that it is in Texas.